Wednesday, July 21, 2004

It Didn't *Have* To Be A Joke...

Over at the Daily Kos, people are mocking the news that the Department of Labor has set up a website to help homeless people find jobs.

Kos: "No, it's not from the Onion."

Various commenters: "I can see it now, as the sad, homeless person lying under his newspaper in the park, covered with cardboard, powers up his Dell Laptop, logs on, and check the Opportunities forum." "There are over 30,000 homeless in NYC alone without WIFI service. Unconscionable..."

I don't actually think there's anything ridiculous about having a website set up to link homeless people with employment services and other government assistance programs. More homeless people have access to the Internet than you might think, through public libraries and homeless shelters - but, more importantly, a well-designed employment resource website would be invaluable to case managers, job coaches, and others who provide direct services to homeless people. My clients don't have home Internet access either (or, often, homes), but I do searches on their behalf all the time. I've been surprised by difficult it is to find up-to-date Internet information about local services. (Last two searches: an HIV support group for a heterosexual man; organized recreational activities for an adult with mild mental retardation. The support group was so impossible to find that I gave up and created one instead.) A comprehensive web directory would save me a hell of a lot of time and trouble.

So: no, it's not a bad idea. It is, however, a terrible website. There are links to Labor Department press releases and relevant employment laws. There are descriptions of targeted programs and service provision grants, neither of which include information (even telephone numbers) that would actually help clients access services. There's a link to a job search website designed for the general population - I couldn't find any information there about job training, supported employment, job coaching, or other special programs for people who aren't quite workforce-ready. Some obviously relevant information is missing: for example, links to the federally-funded state Departments of Vocational Rehabilitation, which provide employment services to people with disabilities.

The one thing on the page that seems genuinely useful is a link to an HHS website that helps case managers apply for federal benefits on behalf of their homeless clients. In other words, it's a resource that (a) already exists, (b) has nothing to do with the Labor Department, (c) is largely antithetical to the stated goal of helping homeless people find employment, and (d) is for service providers rather than clients.

If you want to know what the government is doing to help homeless people get jobs, this website is perfect. If you want to actually get a job for a homeless person, it's useless. So what we have here is nothing more than a government-funded advertisement for Bush's "compassionate conservatism," dressed up as a resource that actually helps the poor. I'm not surprised, but I am disgusted.